With National Rural Health Day upon us, it is fitting that we talk about the providers in rural areas who work hard to deliver care in communities where there is a higher incidence of chronic disease. Nearly half — 44 percent — of Community Health Centers are located in rural areas. In many cases, these centers are more than just medical clinics. They are healers, problem-solvers, and innovators. But we are not talking about organizations so much as the people who choose to work there — the dedicated doctors, nurses, professionals who approach health care with a sense of mission and passion, often under challenging and demanding conditions. That brings us to the documentary, “The Providers,” which airs nationwide on April 8 on PBS. The documentary features three providers at El Centro Family Health, a health center in rural Northern New Mexico and puts a human face to the physician shortage and the opioid epidemic ravaging rural America. Each of the providers featured in the film, physician’s assistant Matt Probst, clinician Leslie Hayes, and nurse practitioner Chris Ruge, works hard to make a difference in their community and in the lives of the patients — some of whom are marginalized, suffering from substance use disorders, or chronic pain. Hayes’ work in addiction treatment earned her recognition as a White House Champion for Change in 2016. As we follow each of these providers in their daily work at El Centro, we are reminded by the documentary makers that their struggles are essentially a reflection of what’s happening elsewhere in rural America. Only one in 10 physicians practice in rural America. Half of the rural counties lack a single prescribing physician. Rural hospitals continue to close. Lack of access to health care is a very real problem in America. Health centers, and the people who work within their walls, are trying to fix that, but we need more of them.
The Providers premieres on Independent Lens April 8, tune in or stream, at 10/9c (check local listings) on PBS.